THE leader of West Lancs Council has moved to allay fears over the possibility of the regeneration plans for Skelmersdale town centre being cancelled or delayed after developer St Modwen decided to abandon its plans for neighbouring Kirkby town centre.
Councillor Ian Moran said the Kirkby scheme was different to the Skelmersdale project which he claimed would start early in the new year.
Concerns were raised when it was announced that St Modwen, who are also behind the plans for Skelmersdale, had agreed to transfer 87 shops and 12.4 acres of land in Kirkby into the ownership of Knowsley Council at a cost of £43m.
The authority reportedly had decided to act after “20 years of failed attempts from the private sector to progress with development in Kirkby.”
St Modwen had bought the land from Tesco for £36m in 2015 and had lined up contractor GMI to deliver the scheme. But there had been little sign of work starting on the site.
Knowsley Council leader Graham Morgan has been critical of St Modwen and said they had been “extremely cautious” to proceed. He added that they had, “waited too long for work to begin” in Kirkby.
It has also been suggested that St Modwen are now opting to ‘move away from owning town centre sites.’
In West Lancs the borough council in October voted through recommendations to drive forward with the physical delivery of the regeneration. The authority has also secured £2m in funding from the Lancashire Enterprise Fund, which will be spent only on the Skelmersdale town centre project.
However, following the Knowsley announcement, doubts about the Skelmersdale scheme resurfaced. One resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented: “St Modwen has held the town of Skelmersdale for ransom for years, even going to court over a cinema.”
Councillor Moran remained upbeat though. He told the Champion: “The Knowsley announcement will have no impact whatsoever on the Skelmersdale scheme. Work is due to start in mid-January.”
“Plans are being finalised. Work was due to start earlier but there has been a delay due to finalising a deal with Homes England and because of the General Election.
“We know that St Modwen are moving away from town centre projects and into warehousing schemes, but that will not affect the Skelmersdale scheme.
“The West Lancashire scheme is different to the Knowsley project as St Modwen will be building it on our behalf.
“These are exciting times. As a resident myself, I understand the frustrations people feel over the length of time it has taken to deliver this project.
“However we are finally getting there. I am looking forward to showing the scheme to people who have said: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’
“As well as the shops, there will be a public open space where we will be able to hold events. It will include a park where people will be proud to bring their children.
“We are also working closely with LCP, who are the owners of the Concourse as well.”
St Modwen has been contacted for comment.